Film Review: In "Roma", Alfonso Cuaron Has Crafted His Most Personal Film Yet
Roma, the new Cuaron film gracefully photographed by writer/director Alfonso Cuaron himself, suggests childhood memories artfully extracted and rendered with distinctly adult sensibilities.
With these few facts in mind it’s no surprise that it’s a semi-autobiographical narrative based on Cuaron’s own upbringing in Mexico City in the ‘70s. What’s more surprising is a total absence of easy sentimentality. The black-and-white look of Roma can be viewed as nostalgic, but it doesn’t exactly allow for rose tinted hues.
Roma follows live-in housekeeper and immigrant, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), who works for a middle to upperclass family in Mexico City. It’s not a straightforward narrative that builds to a point, climaxes, and then leaves, but is rather a gorgeously crafted mosaic of the most overlooked kind of person: the immigrant house maid. This unique structure means that it feels like literally anything could happen, and that grants this otherwise small, mousy drama a tense and uneasy energy at times.
For example, the smaller, tawdry tragedies that befall the family and the much larger political tragedies that threaten to swallow Mexico City sometimes collide to devastating effect, such as a riot between the students and the military (shot with one Cuaron’s legendary long takes) violently interrupting a very pregnant Cleo and her boss’ mother-in-law shopping trip. An earlier awful moment, this one of more mundane kind of cruelty, sees Cleo waiting in vain in the movie lobby upon telling her boyfriend that she’s pregnant with his child. Again, Cuaron frames this long, static take with artful indifference; it’s not Cuaron who doesn’t care, it’s the universe, and you feel that fine distinction when you’re watching the scene play out. It’s this kind of tribute to perseverance that makes Cleo a believably strong person instead of the untouchable stuff of saints.
However, for as often as Roma is harsh, it’s just as often an equally moving story about ordinary people picking up the pieces and moving forward as best they can. It struck me as remarkable that a film of this prestige and calibre contained such an honest, direct message — you’re much stronger than you think you are, even if nobody cares to notice it.
4.5 out of 5 Stars